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Redgauntlet: A Tale Of The Eighteenth Century, Page 2

Walter Scott




  CUR ME EXANIMAS QUERELIS TUIS? In plain English, Why do you deafen mewith your croaking? The disconsolate tone in which you bade me farewellat Noble House, [The first stage on the road from Edinburgh to Dumfriesvia Moffat.] and mounted your miserable hack to return to your lawdrudgery, still sounds in my ears. It seemed to say, 'Happy dog! you canramble at pleasure over hill and dale, pursue every object of curiositythat presents itself, and relinquish the chase when it loses interest;while I, your senior and your better, must, in this brilliant season,return to my narrow chamber and my musty books.'

  Such was the import of the reflections with which you saddened ourparting bottle of claret, and thus I must needs interpret the terms ofyour melancholy adieu.

  And why should this be so, Alan? Why the deuce should you not be sittingprecisely opposite to me at this moment, in the same comfortable GeorgeInn; thy heels on the fender, and thy juridical brow expanding itsplications as a pun rose in your fancy? Above all, why, when I fill thisvery glass of wine, cannot I push the bottle to you, and say, 'Fairford,you are chased!' Why, I say, should not all this be, except because AlanFairford has not the same true sense of friendship as Darsie Latimer,and will not regard our purses as common, as well as our sentiments?

  I am alone in the world; my only guardian writes to me of a largefortune which will be mine when I reach the age of twenty-five complete;my present income is, thou knowest, more than sufficient for allmy wants; and yet thou--traitor as thou art to the cause offriendship--dost deprive me of the pleasure of thy society, andsubmittest, besides, to self-denial on thine own part, rather than mywanderings should cost me a few guineas more! Is this regard formy purse, or for thine own pride? Is it not equally absurd andunreasonable, whichever source it springs from? For myself, I tell thee,I have, and shall have, more than enough for both. This same methodicalSamuel Griffiths, of Ironmonger Lane, Guildhall, London, whose letterarrives as duly as quarter-day, has sent me, as I told thee, doubleallowance for this my twenty-first birthday, and an assurance, in hisbrief fashion, that it will be again doubled for the succeeding years,until I enter into possession of my own property. Still I am to refrainfrom visiting England until my twenty-fifth year expires; and it isrecommended that I shall forbear all inquiries concerning my family, andso forth, for the present.

  Were it not that I recollect my poor mother in her deep widow's weeds,with a countenance that never smiled but when she looked on me--andthen, in such wan and woful sort, as the sun when he glances through anApril cloud,--were it not, I say, that her mild and matron-like formand countenance forbid such a suspicion, I might think myself the son ofsome Indian director, or rich citizen, who had more wealth than grace,and a handful of hypocrisy to boot, and who was breeding up privately,and obscurely enriching, one of whose existence he had some reason to beashamed. But, as I said before, I think on my mother, and am convincedas much as of the existence of my own soul, that no touch of shame couldarise from aught in which she was implicated. Meantime, I am wealthy,and I am alone, and why does my friend scruple to share my wealth?

  Are you not my only friend? and have you not acquired a right to sharemy wealth? Answer me that, Alan Fairford. When I was brought from thesolitude of my mother's dwelling into the tumult of the Gaits' Class atthe High School--when I was mocked for my English accent--salted withsnow as a Southern--rolled in the gutter for a Saxon pock-pudding,--who,with stout arguments and stouter blows, stood forth my defender?--why,Alan Fairford. Who beat me soundly when I brought the arrogance of anonly son, and of course a spoiled urchin, to the forms of the littlerepublic?--why, Alan. And who taught me to smoke a cobbler, pin a losen,head a bicker, and hold the bannets?--[Break a window, head a skirmishwith stones, and hold the bonnet, or handkerchief, which used to divideHigh School boys when fighting.] Alan, once more. If I became the prideof the Yards, and the dread of the hucksters in the High School Wynd,it was under thy patronage; and, but for thee, I had been contented withhumbly passing through the Cowgate Port, without climbing over thetop of it, and had never seen the KITTLE NINE-STEPS nearer than fromBareford's Parks. [A pass on the very brink of the Castle rock to thenorth, by which it is just possible for a goat, or a High School boy,to turn the corner of the building where it rises from the edge of theprecipice. This was so favourite a feat with the 'hell and neck boys'of the higher classes, that at one time sentinels were posted to preventits repetition. One of the nine-steps was rendered more secure becausethe climber could take hold of the root of a nettle, so precarious werethe means of passing this celebrated spot. The manning the Cowgate Port,especially in snowball time, was also a choice amusement, as it offeredan inaccessible station for the boys who used these missiles to theannoyance of the passengers. The gateway is now demolished; and probablymost of its garrison lie as low as the fortress. To recollect thatthe author himself, however naturally disqualified, was one of thosejuvenile dreadnoughts, is a sad reflection to one who cannot now stepover a brook without assistance.]

  You taught me to keep my fingers off the weak, and to clench my fistagainst the strong--to carry no tales out of school--to stand forth likea true man--obey the stern order of a PANDE MANUM, and endure my pawmieswithout wincing, like one that is determined not to be the better forthem. In a word, before I knew thee, I knew nothing.

  At college it was the same. When I was incorrigibly idle, your exampleand encouragement roused me to mental exertion, and showed me the wayto intellectual enjoyment. You made me an historian, a metaphysician(INVITA MINERVA)--nay, by Heaven! you had almost made an advocate of me,as well as of yourself. Yes, rather than part with you, Alan, I attendeda weary season at the Scotch Law Class; a wearier at the Civil; and withwhat excellent advantage, my notebook, filled with caricatures of theprofessors and my fellow students, is it not yet extant to testify?

  Thus far have I held on with thee untired;

  and, to say truth, purely and solely that I might travel the same roadwith thee. But it will not do, Alan. By my faith, man, I could as soonthink of being one of those ingenious traders who cheat little MasterJackies on the outside of the partition with tops, balls, bats, andbattledores, as a member of the long-robed fraternity within, who imposeon grown country gentlemen with bouncing brocards of law. [The Hall ofthe Parliament House of Edinburgh was, in former days, divided into twounequal portions by a partition, the inner side of which was consecratedto the use of the Courts of Justice and the gentlemen of the law; whilethe outer division was occupied by the stalls of stationers, toymen, andthe like, as in a modern bazaar. From the old play of THE PLAIN DEALER,it seems such was formerly the case with Westminster Hall. Minos has nowpurified his courts in both cities from all traffic but his own.]Now, don't you read this to your worthy father, Alan--he loves me wellenough, I know, of a Saturday night; but he thinks me but idle companyfor any other day of the week. And here, I suspect, lies your realobjection to taking a ramble with me through the southern counties inthis delicious weather. I know the good gentleman has hard thoughtsof me for being so unsettled as to leave Edinburgh before the Sessionrises; perhaps, too, he quarrels a little--I will not say with my wantof ancestry, but with my want of connexions. He reckons me a lone thingin this world, Alan, and so, in good truth, I am; and it seems a reasonto him why you should not attach yourself to me, that I can claim nointerest in the general herd.

  Do not suppose I forget what I owe him, for permitting me to shelter forfour years under his roof: My obligations to him are not the less, butthe greater, if he never heartily loved me. He is angry, too, that Iwill not, or cannot, be a lawyer, and, with reference to you, considersmy disinclination that way as PESSIMI EXEMPLI, as he might say.

  But he need not be afraid that a lad of your steadiness will beinfluenced by such a reed shaken by the winds as I am. You will go ondoubting with Dirleton, and resolving those doubts with Stewart,['Sir John Nisbett of Dirleton's DOUBTS AND QUESTIONS UPON THE LAW,ESPECIALLLY OF
SCOTLAND;' and 'Sir James Stewart's DIRLETON'S DOUBTS ANDQUESTIONS ON THE LAW OF SCOTLAND RESOLVED AND ANSWERED,' are worksof authority in Scottish jurisprudence. As is generally the case, thedoubts are held more in respect than the solution.] until the crampspeech [Till of late years, every advocate who catered at the Scottishbar made a Latin address to the Court, faculty, and audience, in setterms, and said a few words upon a text of the civil law, to show hisLatinity and jurisprudence. He also wore his hat for a minute, in orderto vindicate his right of being covered before the Court, which is saidto have originated from the celebrated lawyer, Sir Thomas Hope, havingtwo sons on the bench while he himself remained at the bar. Of late thisceremony has been dispensed with, as occupying the time of the Courtunnecessarily. The entrant lawyer merely takes the oaths to government,and swears to maintain the rules and privileges of his order.] hasbeen spoken more SOLITO from the corner of the bench, and with coveredhead--until you have sworn to defend the liberties and privileges of theCollege of Justice--until the black gown is hung on your shoulders, andyou are free as any of the Faculty to sue or defend. Then will I stepforth, Alan, and in a character which even your father will allow may bemore useful to you than had I shared this splendid termination of yourlegal studies. In a word, if I cannot be a counsel, I am determined tobe a CLIENT, a sort of person without whom a lawsuit would be as dullas a supposed case. Yes, I am determined to give you your first fee. Onecan easily, I am assured, get into a lawsuit--it is only the getting outwhich is sometimes found troublesome;--and, with your kind father foran agent, and you for my counsel learned in the law, and the worshipfulMaster Samuel Griffiths to back me, a few sessions shall not tire mypatience. In short, I will make my way into court, even if it shouldcost me the committing a DELICT, or at least a QUASI DELICT.--You seeall is not lost of what Erskine wrote, and Wallace taught.

  Thus far I have fooled it off well enough; and yet, Alan, all is notat ease within me. I am affected with a sense of loneliness, the moredepressing, that it seems to me to be a solitude peculiarly my own. In acountry where all the world have a circle of consanguinity, extending tosixth cousins at least, I am a solitary individual, having only one kindheart to throb in unison with my own. If I were condemned to labourfor my bread, methinks I should less regard this peculiar species ofdeprivation, The necessary communication of master and servant would beat least a tie which would attach me to the rest of my kind--as it is,my very independence seems to enhance the peculiarity of my situation.I am in the world as a stranger in the crowded coffeehouse, where heenters, calls for what refreshment he wants, pays his bill, and isforgotten so soon as the waiter's mouth has pronounced his 'Thank ye,sir.'

  I know your good father would term this SINNING MY MERCIES, [Apeculiar Scottish phrase expressive of ingratitude for the favours ofProvidence.] and ask how I should feel if, instead of being able tothrow down my reckoning, I were obliged to deprecate the resentment ofthe landlord for consuming that which I could not pay for. I cannot tellhow it is; but, though this very reasonable reflection comes across me,and though I do confess that four hundred a year in possession, eighthundred in near prospect, and the L--d knows how many hundreds more inthe distance, are very pretty and comfortable things, yet I would freelygive one half of them to call your father father, though he shouldscold me for my idleness every hour of the day, and to call you brother,though a brother whose merits would throw my own so completely into theshade.

  The faint, yet not improbable, belief has often come across me, thatyour father knows something more about my birth and condition than heis willing to communicate; it is so unlikely that I should be left inEdinburgh at six years old, without any other recommendation thanthe regular payment of my board to old M--, [Probably Mathieson,the predecessor of Dr. Adams, to whose memory the author and hiscontemporaries owe a deep debt of gratitude.] of the High School.Before that time, as I have often told you, I have but a recollectionof unbounded indulgence on my mother's part, and the most tyrannicalexertion of caprice on my own. I remember still how bitterly shesighed, how vainly she strove to soothe me, while, in the full energyof despotism, I roared like ten bull-calves, for something which it wasimpossible to procure for me. She is dead, that kind, that ill-rewardedmother! I remember the long faces--the darkened rooms--the blackhangings--the mysterious impression made upon my mind by the hearse andmourning coaches, and the difficulty which I had to reconcile all thisto the disappearance of my mother. I do not think I had before thisevent formed, any idea, of death, or that I had even heard of that finalconsummation of all that lives. The first acquaintance which I formedwith it deprived me of my only relation.

  A clergyman of venerable appearance, our only visitor, was my guideand companion in a journey of considerable length; and in the charge ofanother elderly man, substituted in his place, I know not how or why, Icompleted my journey to Scotland--and this is all I recollect.

  I repeat the little history now, as I have a hundred times before,merely because I would wring some sense out of it. Turn, then, thysharp, wire-drawing, lawyer-like ingenuity to the same task--make up myhistory as though thou wert shaping the blundering allegations of someblue-bonneted, hard-headed client, into a condescendence of factsand circumstances, and thou shalt be, not my Apollo--QUID TIBI CUMLYRA?--but my Lord Stair, [Celebrated as a Scottish lawyer.] Meanwhile,I have written myself out of my melancholy and blue devils, merely byprosing about them; so I will now converse half an hour with Roan Robinin his stall--the rascal knows me already, and snickers whenever I crossthe threshold of the stable.

  The black which you bestrode yesterday morning promises to be anadmirable roadster, and ambled as easily with Sam and the portmanteau,as with you and your load of law-learning. Sam promises to be steady,and has hitherto been so. No long trial, you will say. He lays theblame of former inaccuracies on evil company--the people who were at thelivery-stable were too seductive, I suppose--he denies he ever did thehorse injustice--would rather have wanted his own dinner, he says.In this I believe him, as Roan Robin's ribs and coat show no marks ofcontradiction. However, as he will meet with no saints in the inns wefrequent, and as oats are sometimes as speedily converted into aleas John Barleycorn himself, I shall keep a look-out after Master Sam.Stupid fellow! had he not abused my good nature, I might have chattedto him to keep my tongue in exercise; whereas now I must keep him at adistance.

  Do you remember what Mr. Fairford said to me on this subject--it did notbecome my father's son to speak in that manner to Sam's father's son?I asked you what your father could possibly know of mine; and youanswered, 'As much, you supposed, as he knew of Sam's--it was aproverbial expression.' This did not quite satisfy me; though I am sureI cannot tell why it should not. But I am returning to a fruitlessand exhausted subject. Do not be afraid that I shall come back onthis well-trodden yet pathless field of conjecture. I know nothing souseless, so utterly feeble and contemptible, as the groaning forth one'slamentations into the ears of our friends.

  I would fain promise you that my letters shall be as entertaining asI am determined they shall be regular and well filled. We have anadvantage over the dear friends of old, every pair of them.Neither David and Jonathan, nor Orestes and Pylades, nor Damon andPythias--although, in the latter case particularly, a letter by postwould have been very acceptable--ever corresponded together; for theyprobably could not write, and certainly had neither post nor franks tospeed their effusions to each other; whereas yours, which you had fromthe old peer, being handled gently, and opened with precaution, may bereturned to me again, and serve to make us free of his Majesty's postoffice, during the whole time of my proposed tour. [It is well knownand remembered, that when Members of Parliament enjoyed the unlimitedprivilege of franking by the mere writing the name on the cover, it wasextended to the most extraordinary occasions. One noble lord, to expresshis regard for a particular regiment, franked a letter for every rankand file. It was customary also to save the covers and return them,in order that the correspondence might be carried on as long as theenvelop
es could hold together.] Mercy upon us, Alan! what letters Ishall have to send to you, with an account of all that I can collect, ofpleasant or rare, in this wild-goose jaunt of mine! All I stipulate isthat you do not communicate them to the SCOTS MAGAZINE; for though youused, in a left-handed way, to compliment me on my attainments in thelighter branches of literature, at the expense of my deficiency in theweightier matters of the law, I am not yet audacious enough to enter theportal which the learned Ruddiman so kindly opened for the acolytes ofthe Muses.--VALE SIS MEMOR MEI. D. L.

  PS. Direct to the Post Office here. I shall leave orders to forward yourletters wherever I may travel.